So it’s Lent. And what is Lent, anyway? We might perhaps think of it as that annual morose and mopey time of year, marked by giving up some treasured food or habit, that engenders a sense of holy deprivation which is supposed to be good for us. But neither moping nor deprivation is the point, nor the true value.
Lent, as a season of penitence, intrudes on our distracted and unexamined lives annually. This intrusion is needed. Left to my own devices, I would remain distracted, barreling through yet another year without considering what might—indeed should—be different. As such, Lent is a needed interruption for me. It calls me, invites me, to stop and consider where I am failing to love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love my neighbor as myself. And we are all failing in some way to do one or both of those things—in thought, word, or deed. Lent is a stopping place for just that purpose. Let us thank the Lord for the intrusion.
The point of taking the season for this kind of self-examination is expressed beautifully in the collect for Ash Wednesday, which asks that God would “create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins, and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of [him], the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness.”
The point and value of Lent is that it gives us opportunity to cooperate with the Lord, so that he would create new and contrite hearts within us, leading us to forgiveness in him.
Well, with all that lamenting and wretchedness-acknowledging, at least the morose and mopey part seems accurate. Kind of. The lament—godly sorrow, Paul tells us—brings
repentance that leads to salvation without regret” (2 Cor 7:10). “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psa 30:5). It is my conviction that the deepest rhythm of repentance is joy—the joy of restoration, of forgiveness, of coming home.
So I invite and exhort us all to welcome the interruption of Lent, to examine our lives, and to know the joy of repentance. May we all, this Lent, come home again to the Lord.